MYRTLE BEACH — Visitors to South Carolina's coast during the summer are as likely to be waited on by a college student from Taiwan or Eastern Europe as they are a local teen, The Sun News of Myrtle Beach reported Sunday.
Hundreds of foreign workers every year find summer work along the state's Grand Strand, despite a statewide jobless rate of 10 percent. But Sheryl Kline of the University of South Carolina's School of Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism Management said the seasonal jobs are not the work the state's unemployed are looking for.
'Are they taking Americans' jobs? Not if you're thinking of someone who wants to take a job for a livelihood,' Kline said. 'Could Americans easily do the jobs they do? Yes, but people just don't want to wait tables or they don't want to clean rooms.'
Student workers who spoke to the newspaper said they don't really make much money while they are here, usually just enough to pay their living expenses and to enjoy a summer away from home.
Student Chen Kuan Chi is from Taiwan and studies at the National Central University 30 minutes outside Taipei. He decided late last year that he wanted to tag along with a friend who planned to work in the U.S. for the summer.
The two were approved for J-1 visas, which college students typically get for work-exchange trips.
'The main thing that I see is there is a need for these workers, and they fulfill a service that the industry needs,' Kline said. 'You'd have a lot longer restaurant lines if you didn't have these students coming over on a J-1 visa.'
Chen is waiting tables at Johnny Rockets, a 1950s-style diner chain at Broadway at the Beach. He said he hopes to break even on the $3,000 he paid for the visa, job placement service and flight. He said he could live 10 months in Taiwan on $3,000.
But most of his earnings here are going to pay $47 a week on a two-room motel unit he shares with four other students. He rides a bike for transportation.
'Even if you make $30 a day, you can survive,' Chen said. 'For a drink and some cigarettes, it's enough ... without money to do anything else.'
Businesses say foreign students often are able to work earlier and later in the season when U.S. high school and college kids are unavailable.
'When we use the foreign exchange, it really helps us in the shoulder seasons when the kids are still in school,' said Vince Nicoletti, spokesman for PARC management, which operates Myrtle Waves water park and NASCAR SpeedPark. 'We have very few problems with them; they work extraordinarily hard for the most part.'
Most students head back to their home country in August or September, Kline said. Few would want to risk future trips to the U.S. by overstaying their visas.
SC tourism businesses hire foreign student workers